C S Lewis

C. S. Lewis Smoking Clive Staples Lewis (born Date of birth::1898 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, died Date of death::22 November 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis, was a renowned British author and scholar. He adopted the name "Jack," which is how he was known to his friends and acquaintances. He is known for his work on medieval literature and for his Christian apologetics and fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia.

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British scholar

Lewis taught as a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford for nearly thirty years, and later was the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University and a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. In spite of this position, he claimed that there was no such thing as an English renaissance. Much of his scholarly work concentrated on the later Middle Ages, especially its use of allegory. His The Allegory of Love (1936) helped reinvigorate the serious study of late medieval narratives like the Roman de la Rose. Lewis wrote a preface to John Milton's poem Paradise Lost which is still one of the more important critical responses to that work. His last academic publication, The Discarded Image, an Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964), is an excellent summary of the medieval world view, the "discarded image" of the cosmos in his title.

Author

Lewis was a prolific writer and a member of the literary discussion society The Inklings with his close friends J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.

In addition to his scholarly work he wrote a number of popular novels, including the "Space Trilogy" of science fiction books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra (also known by the pulpish title Voyage to Venus), and That Hideous Strength. The trilogy blends traditional science fiction elements with exploration of the Christian themes of sin, fall, and redemption.

The Great Divorce is a short novel about imagined conversations in heaven between the saved and the damned. In the novel, those who are 'damned' apparently damn themselves, in the sense that nothing prevents them from going to heaven and staying there if they choose. But some find the changes heaven induces threatening or uncomfortable, and so decide to leave. The narrator is chaperoned by the Scottish writer George MacDonald.

Another short novel, The Screwtape Letters, comprises letters of advice from an elderly demon to his nephew. In the letters, Screwtape, the elder demon, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, on the best ways to secure the damnation of a particular human.

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children that is by far the most popular of his works. The books have a Christian theme and describe the adventures of a group of children who visit a magical land called Narnia. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was the first published and the most popular book of the series, has been adapted for both stage and screen. The Chronicles of Narnia borrow from Greek and Roman mythology, and traditional English and Irish fairy tales. Lewis cited MacDonald as an influence in writing the series.

Lewis' last novel was Till We Have Faces. Many believe (as he did) that it is his most mature and masterful work of fiction, but it was never a popular success. It is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from the unusual perspective of Psyche's sister. It is deeply concerned with religious ideas, but the setting is entirely pagan, and the connections with specific Christian beliefs are left implicit.

Prior to Lewis' conversion to Christianity, he published two books: Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems, and Dymer, a single narrative poem. Both were published under the pen name of Clive Hamilton.

Writing on Christianity

In addition to his career as an English Professor, and his novels, Lewis also wrote a number of books about Christianity -- perhaps most famously, Mere Christianity. As an adult convert to the Anglican church he was very much interested in presenting a reasonable case for the truth of Christianity. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles were all concerned, to one degree or another, with refuting popular objections to Christianity. He wrote an autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy, which describes his conversion (it was written before he met his wife, Joy Gresham). His essays and public speeches on Christian belief, many of which were collected in God in the Dock, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, remain popular today for their insights into faith. However, his doctrine proves to be somewhat less than orthodox in multiple areas.

Doctrinal issues

  • Scripture (the Bible as myth) - from The Problem of Pain, pages 71,77, and Miracles, page 139

"I have the deepest respect even for Pagan myths, still more for myths in Holy Scripture..."

"What exactly happened when Man fell, we do not know; but if it is legitimate to guess, I offer the following picture – a 'myth' in the Socratic sense, a not unlikely tale..."

"...the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step in that process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical. Whether we can ever say with certainty where, in this process of crystallization, any particular Old Testament story falls, is another matter. I take it that the memoirs of David’s court come at one end of the scale and are scarcely less historical than St. Mark or Acts; and that the Book of Jonah is at the opposite end..."

  • Creation (theistic evolution) - from The Problem of Pain, pages 72,77,79

"If by saying that man rose from brutality you mean simply that man is physically descended from animals, I have no objections... For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself... The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man... We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state..."

  • Salvation (more than one way to Christ) - from Mere Christianity, pages 57-58,176-177

"Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of (Christ’s) dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to... Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works."

"There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it."

Biographic interest

Recently there has been some interest in biographical material concerning Lewis. This has resulted in several biographies (including books written by close friends of Lewis, among them Roger Lancelyn Green and George Sayer), at least one play about his life, and a 1993 movie, titled Shadowlands, based on an original stage and television play. The movie fictionalizes his relationship with an American writer, Joy Gresham, whom he met and married in London, only to watch her die slowly from bone cancer. Lewis' book A Grief Observed describes his experience of bereavement, and describes it in such a raw and personal fashion that Lewis originally released it under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk" to keep readers from associating the book with him (ultimately too many friends recommended the book to Lewis as a method for dealing with his own grief, and he made his authorship public).

Lewis died on November 22, 1963, at the Oxford home he shared with his brother, Warnie. He is buried in the Headington Quarry Churchyard, Oxford, England. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day.

Many books have been inspired by Lewis, including A Severe Mercy by his correspondent Sheldon Vanauken, and numerous Narnia-inspired novels by various hands.

Writings

Poetry

  • Spirits in Bondage (1919; published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton)
  • Dymer (1926; published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton)
  • Till We Have Faces (1956)

Autobiography

  • The Pilgrim's Regress (1933)
  • Surprised by Joy (1955)
  • A Grief Observed (1961; initially published under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk")

Fiction

Space Trilogy

  • Out of the Silent Planet (1938)
  • Perelandra (1943)
  • That Hideous Strength (1946)

Theological Fantasies

  • The Screwtape Letters (1942)
  • The Great Divorce (1945)
  • Screwtape Proposes a Toast (1961)

The Chronicles of Narnia

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
  • Prince Caspian (1951)
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
  • The Silver Chair (1953)
  • The Horse and His Boy (1954)
  • The Magician's Nephew (1955)
  • The Last Battle (1956)

Other

  • The Dark Tower (1977)
  • Letters to an American Lady (1978)

Theology

  • The Problem of Pain (1940)
  • The Abolition of Man (1943)
  • Miracles (1947)
  • Mere Christianity (1952)
  • Reflections on the Psalms (1958)
  • The Four Loves (1960)
  • Prayer: Letters to Malcolm (1964)
  • God in the Dock (Essays on Theology and Ethics) (1970)

Literary

Resources

  • Joseph Pearce, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. Ignatius Press, 2003. ISBN 0898709792
  • Clyde Kilby, Jack.
  • Kathryn Lindskoog, Light in the Shadowlands.
  • Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis. ISBN 0060766905
  • Scott Burson and Jerry Walls, C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time. InterVarsity Press, 1998.